Strategies For Weight Loss
A recent article in the NYTimes (“After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought To Regain Weight” – Gina Kolata, May 2, 2016) brought to light the age-old dilemma of cyclical dieting resulting in regaining lost weight, and then some. Generations of us bought into the idea that dieting would result in a permanent weight loss, but few of us actually got that result. So we kept trying different diets thinking if we got the just-right formula, it would finally work. Low-fat, low-carb, Scarsdale Diet, Dr. Atkins, South Beach Diet, Zone Diet, Weight Watchers – you name it – all require some form of deprivation. Dieting via severe calorie restriction and extreme exercise will likely backfire on you, and for good physiological reasons. As the winners of the reality television show “The Biggest Loser” have proven, it is nearly impossible to keep the weight off after the show is over.
The NIH (National Institutes of Health) did a small study of the “The Biggest Loser” contestants and found that their metabolic rates had plummeted as a result of dieting, as they had expected would happen, but barely recovered years after the dieting ended. Parallel to this metabolic slowing was a severe drop in the levels of leptin, the hormone that controls hunger. As a result of the lowered metabolism, the study participants needed, on average, 500 calories less per day to maintain weight than they did before starting the diet. And with severely reduced levels of leptin, they were hungry all the time – a certain formula for failure.
Scientifically speaking, extreme calorie restricted diets can’t work. Think twice before being tempted to get onto that merry-go-round and if you’re already on it, consider stepping off. If you add in boot camp style exercise, something most humans can’t tolerate for very long, you’ve doubled the whammy – better to introduce a diet and exercise program that can be maintained over a lifetime. Meaning you are not really going on a DIET in the sense that it is a regimen of temporary deprivation meant to attain short-term results. What I mean is a regimen that is more sane and healthful as a way of s-l-o-w-l-y losing weight and maintaining that weight loss over time. Our bodies are programmed to slow down our metabolism when famine is detected, as in a restricted calorie diet, to protect us from starving to death. In order to lose weight without upsetting our internal balance, we must abide our physiology.
And here’s the corker – extreme calorie deprivation always means going low, low fat. Because fat has the highest calorie density of the macro-nutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat), it’s the first to go when considering strictly lowering caloric intake. But it is the one nutrient that might save us from the body’s metabolic response to weight loss. And this is what is meant by “a calorie is not a calorie.” Counting calories is an old paradigm. The realization that it doesn’t work took many decades, and it will take the general public many more years before this information goes completely mainstream. Not all calories are created equal. We need to have all the macro-nutrients in some balance that works for our system. It may be a slightly different balance for each individual, but we can’t expect to throw off that balance suddenly and not have a physiological response.
Studies have shown that the intake of fat has a positive association on leptin levels. And further, that the kind of fat is key, saturated fat having the best influence on leptin levels.* You need fat for many reasons, not the least of which is a smooth running metabolism and normalized leptin levels.
We’ll explore the ways to make weight loss work without deprivation, without traditional dieting, and without grueling workouts in coming articles. Stay tuned!
*Dietary intakes and leptin concentrations
Vajiheh Izadi, Sahar Saraf-Bank, Leila Azadbakht
ARYA Atheroscler. 2014 September; 10(5): 266–272.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are my researched opinions and are provided for educational purposes only. They are not intended to replace sound medical advice from a board certified physician.
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